The ‘More Things’ of Durham
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.' This simple observation, of course, comes from Hamlet, referring to that ‘wholly other' category of things we experience, briefly glimpse, are awed by or mull over. Ineffable things that we struggle to articulate yet know are real for their impact upon us. Things magical, sublime, and important.
I have been lucky to work at Durham University and live in the city centre for one year, long enough to feel and observe the ‘more things' as they occur and recur. I am not alone in this experience, though it would take a poet like Yeats to capture it in words. For the rest of us, I've noticed, we take the easy road by simply bundling all our intimations into something we objectify as ‘the Durham difference.' No need to attempt a definition, for we all mostly know what we're talking about. By ‘we' I mean students, staff, alumni and friends, of whom I've met hundreds this past year. We know that the Durham difference is good, and that it changes lives.
It is because of our own experience of the ‘more things’ that those of us who work at Durham feel such a profound sense of stewardship to the University. It is for us to add meaningfully to the special quality of the place, to maintain and perpetuate the Durham difference for our students today and tomorrow. We feel this acute sense of responsibility in how we teach and mentor students in a research-intensive and collegiate environment. Ours is a dynamic, challenging, intensely personal and caring approach, one that accounts for one of the highest student retention and employability rates in the UK. This approach distinguishes our university from others.But the ‘more things’ of Durham come at a cost, as they have historically. The Cathedral, Castle, Prebend’s Bridge, the cobbled Bailey lined by University departments and colleges, Palace Green Library – in short, everything that makes Durham what it is today – were created and defended by those who believed in Durham, in the scholarly, communal life that could be had here. Inordinate amounts of blood, sweat, tears and treasure have been invested to build and preserve Durham over the centuries.
The University presently finds itself in a situation where, without the support of our alumni, we will be hard-pressed to maintain and perpetuate the ‘more things' for our students, scholars and your alma mater. There was a time when we could rely entirely on the Government for financial resources to invest in Durham's academic and collegiate excellence. Unrealised by many, those days have passed. Today, the Government's contribution, while welcome, makes up just one-third of our operating budget.
Before the Second World War, higher education in the UK was funded almost entirely from philanthropic benefaction. After the war this situation was reversed, with the Government picking up the tab - an enlightened policy to be sure. As the provision of higher education has expanded, however, this has proved unsustainable. Perhaps as an unintended consequence, six decades of this policy have left embedded in our culture a sense that philanthropy and education are uncomfortable bedfellows - so much so that many UK alumni equate giving to their alma maters with giving to the National Health Service or to another Government body. This is an untrue and misleading comparison. We do have many alumni donors for whose gifts and support we are deeply grateful.
Our task now is to be open with people about our development plans and encourage a cultural shift in the way alumni perceive the benefits of philanthropy to Durham University. Approximately four percent of Durham alumni offer regular contributions at whatever level they are able, to whichever area within the University they feel the strongest connection. It is our fervent hope that given their memories of the ‘more things' of Durham, and how they have benefited from those things, that all alumni might feel similarly inspired to offer gifts. As a guide to the philanthropic inclinations of our alumni, we have produced a brochure that sets out the vision of what Durham University can achieve through philanthropy.
In essence, we can enhance our reputation as a university that exemplifies the best in British higher education, one that is home to the world's leading teaching and research scholars and has outstanding students excelling in academia, sport and community projects: an alma mater that serves as a model for national and international leadership in discovering and applying new knowledge, and for which alumni can be proud.
Consistent with this vision, we invite gifts in four general areas: supporting our students; sustaining excellence in research; enhancing our learning and collegiate environment; and building our endowment. (The ‘Durham Difference' brochure can be viewed at www.durham.ac.uk/daro/durhamdifference or you may contact me directly to receive a hard copy.) Re-reading Yeats recently I came across a few lines that capture that sense of realisation one occasionally has from experiencing Durham's ‘more things'. Notwithstanding that the poem is set in London, perhaps it will trigger your own memories of Durham.
My fiftieth year had come and gone, I sat, a solitary man, In a crowded London shop, An open book and empty cup On the marble table-top. While on the shop and street I gazed My body of a sudden blazed; And twenty minutes more or less It seemed, so great my happiness, That I was blessed and could bless.
Is this familiar and do you remember? Was your time here transformative? If so, and if you feel sufficiently blessed by your Durham experience that you can indeed bless your alma mater with your support now, by whatever means, please know of our gratitude and that of our students. We are all stewards of the Durham difference, which, as our Vice-Chancellor always says, is truly wonderful.
Director of Development & Alumni Relations